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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                35

lying almost within arm's reach. There he sat for a long
time, his head dropped on his chest, thinking of nothing,
seeing and hearing nothing, not even feeling the pangs of

He took a deep breath, threw a few pinches of snow
into his mouth, and overcoming the torpor that fettered
his body, he drew the rusty tin of conserves from his
pocket and opened it with the German dirk. He put a
piece of frozen, tasteless fat into his mouth and wanted
to swallow it, but the fat melted. Instantly, he was over-
come by such ravenous hunger that he could barely tear
himself away from the tin, and began to eat snow, only
to have something to swallow.

Before proceeding farther he cut himself a pair of
walking-sticks from a juniper-tree. He leaned on these
sticks, but with every step he found it more and more
difficult to walk.

.. .The third day of Alexei's painful walk through the
dense forest, in which he found not a single human trail,
was marked by an unexpected event. He awoke with the
first rays of the sun, shivering from the cold and inward
fever. In a pocket of his flying suit he found a cigarette
lighter which his mechanic had made from an empty
rifle cartridge and had given him as a souvenir. He had
entirely forgotten about it, or that he could and should
have lit a fire. Breaking some dry, mossy branches from
the fir-tree under which he had slept, he covered them
with pine-needles and set fire to them. Brisk, yellow
flames shot out from the grey smoke. The dry, resinous
wood burned quickly and merrily. The flames reached the
pine-needles and, fanned by the wind, flared up, hissing
and groaning.
The fire hissed and crackled, radiating dry, beneficent
heat. A cosy feeling overcame Alexei. He pulled down
the zipper of his flying suit and drew from his tunic pocket
some tattered letters, all written in the same hand. In
one of the letters he found, wrapped in a piece of cel-
lophane, a photograph of a slim girl in a flowered frock,
sitting on the grass with her legs drawn in. He gazed at